What is the Hush Harbors Initiative?
The Hush Harbors* Initiative is a program where Black/African-diaspora women of both faith and public service come together to explore communal care practices that can fuel the work in their communities. This lay-leader led, sister-circle model provides a “brave space” for Black women to share their lives through story-based truth-telling group time. This first component is called the Sisters of the Yam Gathering.
The circle opens to all women in the community through the second component of the Hush Harbor Initiative - Embodied Resilience Seminars - practice spaces of movement and creativity to develop the self-recovery tools available through art, movement and exploratory experiences.
The Hush Harbors Initiative is largely influenced by Sisters of the Yam: Black Women and Self-Recovery by bell hooks and the work of other feminist, womanist and liberationist scholars, theologians and mental health professionals.
*Hush/brush Harbors were where enslaved Black people would gather in secret to practice and adapt religious traditions in the antebellum United States of America.
Forming circles of grace and shelter
Hush Harbors were sometimes “just a covering of branches and leaves for a roof...hidden in plain sight...a place where the knowledge brought from ancestral places and gained from the new land (new challenges) were combined with the new understanding of spirituality (Christianity)...extracting stories of freedom and liberation given by a God who sees and hears...all combined to create a place of lament and joy, of being together, planning, reporting, creating, loving, places of freedom inside of oppression.
In her book Remnants Rachel Elizabeth Harding conveys her mother’s wisdom about Pachamamas. The women who form a “circle of grace that has been here since the beginning of the world, since the beginning of people”. I believe when we form sacred circles of women (even other gender expressions) we are joined by these Pachamamas. Sometimes those circles are camp fires, sometimes they are bedside circles, they are sister circles, they are circles where the great cloud of witnesses, of ancestors are welcomed in. She goes on to say these women helped each other - they “found a meeting ground in a hush harbor someplace, steady patting feet and the backs of their babies, moaning in a presence that shored up their hearts for more struggle, more strength.”
We still need those spaces. The Hush Harbor Initiative is a way to continue to create those spaces, to join the Pachamama circle, to take help each other, to form circles of grace and shelter.
History and future vision
We are currently finishing the first cohort of women held in Nashville, TN. Through partnership with Scarritt Bennett Center and supported by a mini-grant from the historic Highlander Center, the concept has been explored with approximately 70 middle Tennessee women. Having received great demand from women around the country to scale the initiative, Faith Matters Network is working toward an online training in January 2017, with an expansion vision of creating Hush Harbors initiatives in ten Southern cities over the next two years.
For inquiries into joining a Nashville cohort, starting your own group or any other information, contact Micky ScottBey Jones firstname.lastname@example.org
The inaugural Hush Harbors Initiative was funded with the generous support of the We Shall Overcome Fund at the Highlander Research and Education Center.